Like a tapir, only even more bizarre


We don't know what's weirder -- the way the Mongolian saiga looks, or the fact that its population has plummeted by 95 percent in just the last 15 years:

Standing just under two feet at the shoulder and weighing about 50 pounds, the most striking feature of the saiga is its large nose, or proboscis, similar to a tapir [editor's note: I once called the tapir "the world's silliest animal," but this one clearly trumps it]. The function of this unusual nose is not clear, but it may serve to warm or filter air during Mongolia's frigid winters and notorious dust storms. ... Saigas still occur in pockets of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kalmykia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia, but the genetically unique subspecies found only in Mongolia numbers perhaps less than 2,000. Ten thousand years ago saigas roamed from the northern Yukon and Alaska to England, but the species was lost from North America and Britain as climate and vegetation shifted. With the collapse of the Soviet Empire, unregulated hunting resulted in the recent startling decrease in saiga numbers.

Scientists have just outfitted eight saiga with GPS tracking collars, which will have two effects: (1) helping scientists learn more about what the saiga need to survive, and (2) making the animals look even more ridiculous.

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